Allmendinger, Petty exchange words at Daytona |

Allmendinger, Petty exchange words at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – AJ Allmendinger and car owner Richard Petty had a heated exchange in the garage area at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.

Allmendinger pulled away from the seven-time NASCAR champion, turned his back on his boss and then stormed away from The King. Allmendinger declined to talk to reporters, but the executive vice president of Richard Petty Motorsports said his driver was merely frustrated by having a strong car and a poor finish.

“I always say the car owner shouldn’t talk to the driver anytime after the race, especially after an accident,” Petty VP Robbie Loomis said. “I think Richard’s been here so many times, he’s been through this stuff and he was just trying to get him to loosen up and let the boys do their stuff on fixing the car and getting back out there. Anytime you talk to somebody at the wrong time, it always causes discussion that needs to be worked out. That’s all that happened.”

Allmendinger was still hot when Loomis got to the garage a few minutes after the incident, which happened 66 laps into the 400-mile race.

“He’s a hard-charging competitor and he’s as passionate as anybody out there,” Loomis said. “Unfortunately, two Daytona races with great cars and we haven’t been able to bring the finish home.”

Allmendinger led seven laps at Daytona International Speedway in February, but finished 32nd after brushing fenders with four-time series champion Jeff Gordon.

This time, Allmendinger swerved to avoid hitting Kyle Busch and spun into the infield. Busch, who overcame a loose wheel early in the race, later wrecked when he turned into Juan Pablo Montoya. His accident set off the loudest ovation of the race.

“I didn’t turn right to wreck myself,” Busch said. “Why would I do that? That’s dumb. We had the fastest car out there. Another year here in Daytona being the fastest car.”

Allmendinger may have felt the same way after his 36th-place finish.

“We’ll be back,” Loomis said. “It’s unfortunate for AJ. He’s such a fierce competitor. I can’t describe how bad that guy wants to win and he will win. It’s just a matter of when.”

LABONTE’S 600TH: Bobby Labonte hit a milestone at Daytona.

Labonte made his 600th start in NASCAR’s top series when the green flag dropped for the 180-lap race.

Labonte is 20th on the career list, well back of seven-time series champion Richard Petty’s record of 1,185 starts. Labonte’s older brother, Terry, has 867 starts.

“Having 600 starts, wow!” said Labonte, who served as grand marshal. “That is a lot of racing. It is just an honor and a privilege to be able to have that many races under my belt. There have been so many people that have helped me get to this point in my career.”

Labonte drove this weekend for Phoenix Racing. He piloted the No. 09 Chevrolet for team owner James Finch, who won the spring race at Talladega last year with Brad Keselowski behind the wheel. The team uses Hendrick Motorsports equipment, giving Labonte hope that this could offer him a chance to get an elusive win at NASCAR’s most storied track. He got caught in a late wreck and finished 16th.

“I’m not racing just to hit milestones or anything like that,” said Labonte, who made his Cup debut in 1991. “Like I’ve said, I want to win and be competitive. Hitting 600 starts, it’s great, and hopefully there will be a lot more, too.”

Labonte is winless in 35 career starts at the 2 1/2-mile superspeedway. He was on the pole twice and has five top-five finishes, including a second-place showing when Dale Earnhardt picked up his first Daytona 500 victory in 1998.

RAIN DELAY: The start of the race was delayed 1 hour, 32 minutes by rain. The real delay? Drying the track.

The early evening showers didn’t last long, but it took considerable time for jet blowers to dry the 2 1/2-mile, high-banked speedway. Delays like that happen all the time in auto racing, but if NASCAR chairman Brian France has his way, they could be things of the past soon.

“People are coming to us with certain ways to dry asphalt faster and better,” France said Friday. “That would be a welcomed technology advancement. So we’ll always try to do that. … If inclement weather happens, it’s out of our control. But to get the track as dry as fast as we can … if we can speed that up down the road with technology or anything else, gosh, we’ll be the first ones to do it.”

GOODYEAR’S MESSAGE: For the first time in its history, Goodyear has changed its sidewall design on tires used in NASCAR.

The company brought tires to Daytona International Speedway with a patriotic color scheme that read “Support Our Troops” on the sidewall. The design was unveiled to say thanks to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces and launch Goodyear’s “Support Our Troops” program. The company also jump-started its fundraising effort by donating $20,000 to a leading military support program.

The tires made their debut this weekend in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series.

“For well over 100 years, Goodyear has been supplying and supporting the U.S. military, and has been a part of NASCAR’s great history for more than 56 years. Now, we’re making this historic change to honor them both,” said Kris Kienzl, Goodyear’s NASCAR marketing manager. “We are showing our support for the uniformed men and women who protect us and our families with a special message on the premier spot on our race tires.”

LUG NUTS: Former Hootie & the Blowfish lead singer Darius Rucker, who launched a solo career in country music two years ago, performed a pre-race concert. … Tennis pro John Isner, who lives in nearby Tampa, was on hand for the race. Isner and France’s Nicolas Mahut played the longest match in tennis history at Wimbledon, a body-battering, 183-game test of will that encompassed 11 hours, 5 minutes of action over three days.